EXETER—When you think of the future, what comes to mind? Is it a vision of large, metropolitan cities? Hover boards? Jet packs?
What about locally? How do you see your town and your community changing in 50 years? In 100? 200?
That was the key question asked Wednesday night as the Borderlands Project, as part of its Village Innovation Pilot, hosted a two-hour public meeting on Village Growth in Exeter which focused on the future of the town and, more specifically what effects growth will have on it and whether or not developing a village center that could rival that of neighboring areas around Rhode Island makes sense.
“What is a vision for Exeter?,” presenter Scott Millar asked a crowd of roughly 80 Exeter residents at the Job Corps. center Wednesday night. “What we’re trying to do is develop a game plan for how this town is going to grow in the future.”
With the help of a handful of other speakers, and with a 165-slide Powerpoint presentation, Millar went over the idea of a village center in Exeter and, point by point, explained the different options and what building such a center would do for the town and its people.
First came a bit of background on the Vision for Exeter program, a three-phase process that began in 2008 after the town was chosen—along with Killingly, Conn.—from a list of potential candidates to receive grant money for the Borderlands Pilot Innovation Project.
Phase I for the program was called “Heart & Soul Visioning” and it consisted of a series of interviews with 60 community members with a wide range of backgrounds to get a feel for how the town views itself and its future growth.
Completed in March of 2009, the survey results showed that participants felt Exeter was “defined by its rural character” and felt growth is inevitable but should be managed to preserve that rural character.
Participants were also asked what they would change about Exeter and the results were not surprising.
The majority of those surveyed felt the town must develop a game plan for growth and create a village with business, residential and recreational uses.\
That brought Wednesday’s meeting to Phase II of the Vision for Exeter program.
Millar explained that the objectives of Phase II were to discuss the advantages/disadvantages of villages, assess potential village areas, define village development in Exeter and come up with techniques to prevent sprawl and, over the next hour, presenters went over, in great detail, the different types of villages that Exeter could one day create.
The first idea looked at, for comparison sake, was an existing site with 500 acres of land. In theory, as the town of Exeter begins to grow, development will be inevitable and how to break up that type of land becomes critical.
A conventional development calls for that land to be broken up into 100 lots of at least four acres and allows for no open space, with development spread throughout the area. A conservation development, meanwhile, calls for 100 one-acre lots spread throughout the region and allows for 400 acres of open space but does so without a village center.
Millar then presented two different types of villages, the first a village without a transfer of development rights (TDR). That type of village would condense development into a small corner of the 500-acre lot and allow for 100 one-acre lots in one area, creating 400 acres of open space. The second, a village with TDR would move developmental rights from elsewhere in the town and create a village with 200 half-acre lots and 900 acres of open space elsewhere.
When asked why Exeter should consider a village, Millar presented a slide that said building a village would protect the natural environment; protect farmland; support economic growth and increase the tax base; provide homes for people at all stages of their lives; provide amenities that increase quality of life and create a sense of community.
Millar and company also showed how a village center would help increase revenues and lower taxes in Exeter and then asked the audience to participate in a series of 23 questions to gauge how those in attendance felt about the various village proposals considered.
Though several questions remained—such as what building a village would do to sanitation in town, how the town’s water supplies would be affected and what such a center would mean for police and fire personnel—the residents on hand largely supported the idea of Exeter one day developing a center that, in theory, would resemble the ones in Wickford and South Kingstown today.
So what’s next for the Vision of Exeter project? After Phase II, also known as the “Research and
Recommendations” phase, is completed, the Borderlands staff will put together a final report with their recommendations and submit it to the Exeter Town Council and Planning Board.
For more information on the Borderlands Project, visit www.borderlandsproject.org